Photojournalistic Wedding Photography: Flash Techniques

Although most photojournalistic wedding photography shoots are done using ambient light, there are situations when the lighting situation might not be ideal for turning out good pictures. That is why judicious use of an external flash plays an important role in assuring great shots and happy clients.

wedding reception

photo by Jason Corey

A good photojournalist uses the external flash at appropriate moments to complement available ambient light. With a flash mounted at all times, you can address any kind of lighting situation, without having to scramble when the need arises. Many times, the use of flash creates a distinction between getting the shot or not getting it at all. Therefore, there is no need to be so adamant in insisting that you follow the fad of just using ambient light in your photojournalistic wedding shoots.

These are some examples which make the external flash an indispensable asset:

Indoor Shoots

While many couples opt for a casual outdoor solemnization ceremony, there are some others who would prefer to have their ceremonies conducted indoors, such as in a hotel ballroom or clubhouse, so that they are not at the mercy of unpredictable weather changes. When shooting indoors, it is practically impossible to expect to shoot using ambient light. The use of an external flash here would ensure that your subjects are correctly exposed.

To prevent harsh shadows being cast behind your subjects, you should–at all times–avoid pointing the flash directly at them. Try using an omni-bounce or bounce card to soften the flash falling on your subjects, so as to foster an ambient feel and reduce the evidence of flash. Flash can be bounced off the ceiling, walls, wedding gown, a guest’s white shirt, or anything available that reflects light well.

Bouncing softens the light source by effectively making the source larger and spreading it out in every direction to eliminate hard shadows. Using a sideways bounce off a wall can also create side lighting in rooms with very flat illumination and a directional effect for simple portraits.

Fill-in Flash for Outdoor Shoots

When faced with a strong backlight situation, the camera’s exposure settings will automatically underexpose the subject to compensate for the bright background. Using a fill-in flash in such situations illuminates the subject, preventing them from being underexposed. It can also be especially useful for keeping eye sockets from getting too dark or for lowering the contrast ratio of shadows and highlights in direct sunlight. For best results, you should shoot in A mode, and put your external flash on high-speed sync, a function which is available in most TTL flashes. This creates a nicely exposed subject and ambient background. When the subject is close, and the sky is clear or partly cloudy, you can also take advantage of high-speed sync and use a fast shutter along with negative exposure compensation to darken the background, saturate the blue in the sky, and add a little drama to the clouds above. Darkening the background here allows your subject to stand out from the background, instead of blending in, hence creating more depth in the picture.

fill in flash outdoors

photo by Don LaVange

Contrary to the use of bounce flash indoors, as explained above, direct flash rules reign for outdoor shots–no diffusers or modifiers, no bounce. Here it’s used as either a slight fill to get rid of harsh shadows, or to bring the subject in balance with the ambient light–usually for strong backlight situations. For fill-in effects, try using strobes at about -1 to -2 power on your flash.

Freezing Action

As events in a wedding evolve so quickly, there will be times when you need to freeze action. Some examples include a couple dancing and a wedding march-in. While shooting without a flash creates the “blurred movements” of an event, shooting with an on-camera flash shows the static action using a faster shutter speed.

wedding reception dancing dog

photo by John Hope

Photography flash technique is an art in itself. When used appropriately, it produces stunning photos that will delight all of your customers.

About the Author:
Vivien Tan (vivien-tan dot com) is a professional wedding photographer based in Singapore.

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One response to “Photojournalistic Wedding Photography: Flash Techniques”

  1. Nick Rose says:

    Nice lighting advice here and amazing wedding photography.
    Good work

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